After decades of success as a slapstick-comedy star, Korean actor Hyung-rae Shim was looking for more respect when he recreated himself as a studio mogul, CGI pioneer, and monster-movie writer-director. But his most-ballyhooed effort, 1999's monster-classic remake Yonggary (Reptilian in the U.S.) was a massive flop, both on initial release in Korea, then again on re-release after a $6 million retooling. His follow-up, Dragon Wars, saved his career by becoming a hit at home. But while it centers on a massive, crowd-pleasing monsters-on-military urban battle, and while Shim courted the international market by shooting it in English and on location in L.A, with known American actors, all the thought seems to have gone into the marketing, and none into the unfathomably terrible script.


Glimpsing a gigantic snake scale at the site of an unexplained disaster, CGNN reporter Jason Behr (Roswell) suddenly flashes back to his childhood encounter with Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe proprietor Robert Forster, who told Behr a numbingly complicated fable about their previous incarnations. Every 500 years, a chosen woman manifests a magical energy called the Yuh Yi Joo to turn a faithful 650-foot celestial serpent—or "Imoogi"—into a heavenly dragon. But an evil Imoogi called Buraki also wants this power, and has a dark army willing to spend an entire movie smashing things to help him get it. In his last life (played out as a Korean-language martial-arts mini-epic in a nested flashback), Behr failed to protect the Yuh Yi Joo bearer, but he's been given a second chance in modern-day L.A. Of course, he somehow forgot about the glowing magical scale (and the huge magical "pendant formed by Heaven" that he's still wearing), so he has to flail spastically to catch up when Buraki returns and starts smashing L.A. while trying to chow down on blank-faced chosen one Amanda Brooks.

That brief synopsis doesn't even come close to conveying Dragon Wars' flood of silly exposition, but even all the fable-babble backstory is a minor issue compared to the incoherent narrative, which tosses in a bevy of irrelevant characters doing irrelevant, awkward things. Then there's the Z-grade dialogue, which prompts even the venerable Forster to deliver his lines like he's been drafted into a high-school play, and leaves Behr and Brooks mumbling about destiny while wearing fiercely vapid Gap-ad-model expressions. Dragon Wars reaches for the Transformers crowd with its big action setpieces, in which Buraki's reptilian army takes on Apache helicopters and Abrams tanks, but whenever the human characters open their mouths, Shim is suddenly, unintentionally back to cheap comedy.